Archive for May, 2021

31
May
21

‘Grouse moors are being protected at the expense of Scotland’s other wildlife’ – opinion piece

An opinion piece was published in today’s Press & Journal, written by Max Wiszniewski, Campaign Manager for REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform in Scotland.

The article is reproduced here:

An in-depth study of seven shooting estates has shown that over 100,000 foxes, stoats, weasels, crows and so-called non-target species like hedgehogs and dippers are killed on Scotland’s grouse moors every year.

This is one of the most disturbing parts of the circle of destruction that surrounds the controversial grouse shooting industry, which also requires muirburn (the practice of burning off old growth on a heather moor) on a large scale and the mass chemical medication of grouse to sustain itself.

Thousands of snares and traps legally litter Scotland’s countryside with an aim to kill those animals that threaten grouse numbers – so that a few more of them can be shot by a few people for sport.

While some land managers may have legitimate reasons for controlling the number of certain species, with conservationists being among them, maintaining unnaturally high grouse numbers for sport killing should not be one of those legitimate reasons.

The above activities are immensely underregulated, but Scotland’s birds of prey are protected and cannot be killed legally. This is a relief to many, as these iconic birds may otherwise be subject to cruelty on a far larger scale. However, in the depths of our countryside it still goes on – largely because self-regulation by the shooting industry has not worked.

Birds of prey like golden eagles and hen harriers still go missing or are found dead on or near grouse moors – with the satellite tagged ones representing the tip of the iceberg. This has now been recognised by the Scottish Government and a broad coalition in the Scottish Parliament, who wish to hold grouse shooting to account.

Following the Werritty Report by the Grouse Moor Management Group in 2019, despite heavy resistance from the shooting industry, shooting estates will require a licence to operate.

Frankly, it is surprising that they have operated under so little regulation for so long but the terms of this licence should address the industry’s war on our wildlife. More regulation is needed for a bold and consistent approach to wildlife management, not less.

In 2017, an international panel of 20 experts in wildlife management, conservation and welfare created the first international guidelines for ethical decision making in wildlife control. They agreed to “an interdependent and step-wise set of seven principles for managing human-wildlife conflict” – the types of conflict alluded to by our counterparts in BASC Scotland.

The seven principles for wildlife culling discussed by the report can be summarised by the following:

  • Modifying human practices when possible
  • Justification for control required
  • Have clear and achievable outcome-based objectives
  • Cause the least harm to animals
  • Social acceptability
  • Systemic planning
  • Base control on the specifics of the situation rather than labels (like “pest species”)

It is useful to look at our current shooting, snaring and trapping practices within this framework, as it highlights their many flaws and inadequacies. Grouse moors certainly do not meet the standards of these international consensus principles.

The need to kill so much wildlife indiscriminately in order for more wildlife to be killed on sporting estates is unnecessary, unjustified and is not supported by the people of Scotland.

A national poll by the Diffley Partnership showed that around seven in 10 Scots were against the killing of wildlife for the purpose of grouse shooting. It’s up to the industry to prove that this unregulated mass slaughter is not needed to sustain “high bag numbers”. If driven grouse shooting is to continue, it should not be allowed to depend on it.

Wildlife tourism – shooting wildlife with cameras instead of guns – is already worth around five times more to Scotland’s economy compared to grouse shooting and is a bourgeoning industry that requires room to expand. Along with a mosaic of better alternatives, rural Scotland could instead be transformed with thousands more jobs than are currently permitted to exist within the status quo.

It’s time to move forward not backwards in our attitude and treatment of wildlife. It’s time for more regulation, not less, and the seven principles of ethical wildlife control can help us do that.

By ending the war on wildlife in grouse moors we can help unlock our land’s potential, and it will be to the benefit of our people, our wildlife and the environment.

ENDS

REVIVE is a coalition of like-minded organisations working for grouse moor reform in Scotland. The coalition partners are: OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports, Common Weal, Friends of the Earth, Raptor Persecution UK.

If you’re interested in supporting REVIVE’s work, find out how you can get involved here.

30
May
21

Game-shooting industry called out on raptor persecution by one of its own

It’s been almost four weeks since we learned that a deliberately poisoned golden eagle was found on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

This abhorrent wildlife crime is just about as serious and high profile as it gets.

[The poisoned golden eagle and the poisoned bait. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The golden eagle (along with the white-tailed eagle) has the highest level of protection of any bird species in Scotland (not just the bog standard protection given to all bird species, but the gold standard that includes protection of its nest site and protection from harassment all year round).

It’s an iconic species, loved by millions and on most wildlife lovers’ list of ‘must-sees’ when they visit Scotland.

The Cairngorms National Park is supposed to be the UK’s jewel in the crown and again is on the list of ‘must-sees’ for many visitors to Scotland.

It’s no wonder then, that when one of those wild golden eagles is found slumped and cold in the heather on a prestigious estate in the Cairngorms National Park, right next to a poisoned mountain hare bait deliberately placed to kill wildlife, the news is going to be both shocking and prominent.

And it was.

So how come the game-shooting industry has, on the whole, remained silent about this disgraceful crime? The only statement from a shooting organisation that I could find was from Scottish Land & Estates, the landowner’s lobby group. The statement was vague and short on detail (no mention that the golden eagle had been illegally poisoned and no mention that the eagle’s corpse and the poisoned bait had been discovered on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate, an SLE member, no less, and that this isn’t the first time the estate has been under investigation).

Still, at least SLE published something. As far as I can tell, almost four weeks on there is no statement of condemnation on the websites of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, BASC, GWCT, Countryside Alliance, or Scottish Association for Country Sports.

Doesn’t that silence speak volumes?

I’ve thought a lot about why these organisations, with their vociferous claims of having ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution, should remain silent on such a high profile crime when all eyes are upon them. I haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable explanation because there simply isn’t one. There’s no reasonable explanation, or excuse, for not condemning this crime. None at all.

But where there is ground to benefit is in plausible deniability. In that, if nobody acknowledges that this crime even happened, then the constant denials that there’s even an issue, let alone that it’s an out of control issue, can continue. Think about it. The denials can’t continue if the organisations have previously acknowledged and condemned a recent raptor persecution crime. So the strategy seems to be, shut up, say nothing and it’ll all blow over soon and then we can get back to pretending how much we love raptors whilst simultaneously campaigning for licences to kill them and turning a blind eye every time another one gets taken out on land managed for gamebird shooting.

I’m not the only one to notice the silence and the denial.

The following letter was published in this week’s Shooting Times:

The recent disturbing news of a police raid on Invercauld estate after the discovery of a poisoned golden eagle next to a bait should disgust and anger all in the shooting community. Sadly, for quite a few members of that community, these feelings of revulsion will not be felt.

If any readers can steel themselves to check out the Raptor Persecution UK blog they will find a sickening list [here] of illegally killed raptors from all around the Cairngorms.

If, as shooting’s representative organisations keep telling us, “it’s a few bad apples”, I would suggest that this area of Scotland could well contain the orchard.

Invercauld is one of the most prominent sporting estates in Scotland, with a reputation to uphold around the world, yet this is not the first time it has been investigated in recent years.

This begs the question, how many similar crimes go undiscovered? More pertinently, when they are discovered, how often is the burden of proof insufficient to bring a prosecution?

This fact is well known to the perpetrators, and should be borne in mind when the relative scarcity of successful prosecutions is used by the industry’s representatives to deny the scale of the problem.

Paul Tooley, by email.

I don’t know who Paul Tooley is, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this Paul Tooley (above) is the same as this Paul Tooley or this Paul Tooley (scroll down to comments section).

Whoever he is, bloody well done for calling out these organisations.

Although as a campaigner I shouldn’t really mind the industry’s silence. In my view it’s indicative of complicity / covering up / shielding the guilty and that just means we’re another step closer to toppling this filthy ‘sport’.

29
May
21

Peak District gamekeepers need a bird ID course

You know, if you’re going to profess that you’re interested in any bird life beyond those species your customers want to pay to shoot, your credibility will improve somewhat if you’re able to identify what you’re looking at. Otherwise it looks like you’re pretending.

It seems to happen a lot with the game-shooting industry, doesn’t it? (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here).

Here’s the latest one – a screengrab from the Peak District Moorland Group (basically a bunch of grouse moor gamekeepers) who posted this on social media earlier this evening using the hashtag #realspringwatch.

Good grief.

Seriously? This is basic stuff, it’s not even a rare vagrant. If they’re getting this wrong, what else are they mis-identifying?

I don’t think Chris Packham should fear for his job just yet, do you?

29
May
21

Suffolk Police warn public to be vigilant for peregrine egg thieves

Article from Stowmarket Mercury (May 25th 2021)

Thieves will go to ‘extreme lengths’ to steal rare birds’ eggs, police warn

By Michael Steward

The theft of rare birds’ eggs is still a problem in Suffolk and wildlife enthusiasts are being urged to stay vigilant to any suspicious behaviour. 

Although the crime is rare, egg thieves will travel the country to target rare species, according to Suffolk police. 

The peregrine is a particularly targeted bird for nest robberies, and is prized by both egg collectors and illegal falconers.  

It is believed that peregrine eggs can fetch up to £70,000 in the Middle East. 

[Peregrine nest in Yorkshire, photo by Glenn Kilpatrick]

Sergeant Brian Calver, from Suffolk police’s rural crime team, said thieves will go to “extreme lengths” to get their hands on prized eggs. 

He said: “It’s very rare these days for people to want to collect them but there are still a few hardcore people out there who have got an obsession and take them for their own collections and to swap among their close circles.

But also, further up the scale, you have got those who will take them for financial gain and that’s normally around raptors

Specifically things like peregrines because in the Middle East you’ve got people out there who will pay a vast amount of money for a wild peregrine

So there are egg thieves who will go to extreme lengths to get them and smuggle them out of the country to trade in the Middle East where it’s almost like gold within an egg shell. They are worth an awful lot of money.

Those people are rare but they are willing to travel the country to target certain species.”

Operation Easter, which runs across the UK throughout the bird nesting season, targets egg thieves and allows intelligence to be shared with police forces. 

Sgt Calver said Suffolk has seen incidents in recent years and urged the county’s birdwatching community to stay vigilant. 

A couple of years ago now we had some stone curlew eggs go missing from the Cavenham nature reserve,” he said. 

So I would like to get a message out to the public and the birdwatching community to be vigilant to anyone who does look out of place or look suspicious

Those who are out there to steal, there will be something about their behaviour which will stand out and look suspicious. It is worth reporting

If they do take them, especially a bird which has got a very bespoke need in terms of its habitat, you’ve only got to take one year’s set of eggs and that can have a massive impact on the species numbers for the future.”

ENDS

29
May
21

Police officer charged with alleged wildlife crime offences after multi-agency raid in Scotland

From an article in today’s Daily Record:

Scots cop charged after dawn raid uncovers ‘peregrine falcon eggs’ kept at rural home

Police Scotland have confirmed that a total of three people have been arrested and charged in connection with wildlife offences at a property in Berwick-upon-Tweed

By Sarah Vesty, reporter

[Peregrine falcon with chicks. Photo by Getty Images]

A serving Police Scotland officer has been charged in connection with alleged wildlife offences after an early-morning raid at her home.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is set to appear at Jedburgh Sheriff Court alongside two men, aged 45 and 20, on an undertaking next week.

Officers swooped on the rural property in Berwick-upon-Tweed on Tuesday, May 18, as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of serious organised crime.

Joined by the Scottish SPCA, they are understood to have seized a number of peregrine falcon eggs and chicks from the address.

Police Scotland have confirmed that three people have been arrested in connection with the recovery and that their “enquiries remain ongoing”.

A force spokesperson said: “Officers executed a warrant in the early hours of Tuesday, 18, May, at a property in Lamberton Holdings in Berwick-upon-Tweed in connection with an ongoing investigation.

Two men, aged 20 and 45 years, and a 43-year-old woman have been arrested and charged in connection with wildlife offences.

They are due to appear at Jedburgh Sheriff Court at a later date. Enquiries are continuing.”

A Scottish SPCA special investigations unit inspector, who cannot be named due to undercover operations, said: “We can confirm we assisted Police Scotland in relation to a warrant regarding wildlife offences at a property in Lamberton Holdings in Berwick-upon-Tweed.”

Peregrine falcons are protected under The Wildlife and Countryside Act meaning it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb them near or on an active nest.

The species has historically suffered from persecution and pesticide poisoning with their numbers dwindling to their lowest levels in the 1960s.

Scottish specimens of the bird – which can dive at more than 200mph – are highly prized in the Middle East where they are used for racing by wealthy sheikhs.

Stronger legislation has helped increase the number of falcons in the wild however they are still persecuted for preying on game birds and racing pigeons.

Their eggs have also previously been stolen to order for private collections and falconry.

ENDS

Please note: as this is a live investigation and individuals have been charged I will not be accepting comments on this article until legal proceedings have ended. Thanks.

28
May
21

Hysteria from Scottish gamekeepers as SNP and Greens formalise talks to cooperate

Earlier this week it was announced that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in formal talks with the Scottish Greens over a ‘co-operation agreement’ designed to seal a pro-independence majority at Holyrood. Falling short of a formal coalition, the agreement could in future lead to Green MSPs becoming Ministers as part of the current Scottish Government (see Scottish Greens statement here, BBC news article here and an analysis from the Guardian’s Scotland Editor Sev Carrell here).

This proposed agreement is of huge interest to many environmentalists and although the specific policy areas of potential cooperation have not yet been agreed (see here), tackling the climate emergency (and by default, surely, the nature emergency) should be a prominent feature.

The news of these talks has triggered the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) to publish a typically over-the-top scaremongering response about perceived job losses, presumably as a ploy to keep its less well-informed members ready to join a protest at short notice: [Update 16.30hrs – see foot of blog!]

Job losses are of concern to everyone, of course, but as I’ve written previously, the SGA is once again accusing the Scottish Greens of doing something they haven’t done.

The Scottish Greens have made it an aspiration to abolish our members’ jobs‘, says the SGA.

Actually, the Greens have done no such thing. In fact in their election manifesto the Scottish Greens have committed to creating jobs in the countryside, promising ‘at least £895M over the next five years in restoring nature whilst investing in rural communities, creating over 6,000 green jobs’.

The Greens are also committed to ensuring that the licencing of grouse moors ‘is properly resourced and well enforced’ – how does that equate to rural job losses if grouse moor managers are abiding by the law?

A spokesperson from the Scottish Greens is cited today in another article about the proposed cooperative agreement amid concerns from fish farmers and National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS):

A spokesman for Scottish Green MSPs responded that it was too early to say which issues would arise in talks with the SNP.

He said that environmental harm and fish welfare was a higher priority than phasing out caged fish farms altogether.

He explained that the party’s intention was to support industries in finding alternatives to harmful and polluting activities, and not to force sudden change‘.

Perhaps if the SGA had spent less time and money sponsoring adverts against the Scottish Greens (that went well – great use of members’ funds, not), less time complaining to the electoral commission (how did that go?) and more time reading and engaging with the Greens instead of excluding them from hustings, they’d have a better grasp of what was going on and be in a stronger position to contribute to discussions instead of constantly throwing their toys out of the pram and howling, ‘It’s so unfair’.

Actually, if they’d got any sense at all they’d realise that these talks are not their greatest immediate threat – it’s the continued illegal killing of birds of prey on land managed for gamebird shooting that’s pushing them further and further in to the corner and away from public support.

That poisoned golden eagle, found dead next to a poisoned bait on Invercauld Estate, sent shockwaves through the public, many of whom had no idea this sort of barbarity still goes on.

The SGA’s response? Well I can’t see any statement of condemnation on their website, can you?

[The poisoned golden eagle found lying on a grouse moor next to a poisoned bait on Invercauld Estate. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

UPDATE 16.30hrs:

Right on cue, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has just published this:

28
May
21

Wild Justice highlights alleged breach of new General Licences & asks DEFRA to investigate

To read the full story please visit the Wild Justice blog here

26
May
21

Sensationalist media reporting over red kite ‘attack’ will not help stop persecution

When I talk with international colleagues about the problem we have in the UK with bird of prey persecution, many of them are baffled how it can still be ‘a thing’ over here, so many decades after societies elsewhere developed a much more progressive attitude.

To be honest it’s a question I struggle to answer, but it is indeed still ‘a thing’ in many parts of the UK, as entries on this blog will attest. One of the causes of this ongoing perception that birds of prey are ‘bad’, ‘evil’, ‘vermin’ etc is undoubtedly the sensationalist, distorted version of reality published by mainstream media, designed to grab headlines rather than sensibly inform.

Here’s a classic example from yesterday, after a red kite lifted a custard cream from the hand of a two-year-old boy in Henley, Oxfordshire and accidentally scratched the back of his hand. Here’s how the press responded (The Times, Sky News, The Guardian, Daily Mail):

The toddler wasn’t ‘attacked’, nor was the town, and nor are residents being ‘terrorised’ by red kites, which the Daily Mail says ‘resemble eagles’!

Red kites are skilled opportunists and if there’s an easy meal to be had, they’ll take it. The situation in Henley with red kites coming in close to humans has been exacerbated by some residents feeding scraps to the kites in their gardens, and although this has been widely discouraged some people continue because they still enjoy having the kites around, 30 years on from the reintroduction project just a few miles outside Henley.

I know the Chilterns very well and the draw has always been the kites. The vast majority of people I know there and others I meet when out walking there are not ‘in fear of being attacked’ and nor do they believe they are living in a ‘Hitchcock horror’. Those of us lucky enough to have kites around relish the fact we can live alongside these birds and get enormous pleasure from seeing them every day.

This unsubstantiated hysteria generated by the press does nothing to educate the public about the benefits of having birds of prey in our environment and will not help to stop those still intent on killing any bird of prey whether by trap, poison or the gun.

Just in the last few months alone there have been reports of a poisoned red kite in Scotland (here), a poisoned red kite in Lincolnshire (here), a poisoned red kite in Dorset (here), a shot red kite in the Cotswolds (here), a shot red kite in Norfolk (here), a suspected shot red kite in Warwickshire (here), a red kite killed in an illegally-set trap in Berkshire (here), a poisoned red kite in North Yorkshire (here), dead red kites found in suspicious circumstances in Wiltshire (here), a shot red kite in Wales (here)……and on and on and on.

The UK media needs to get a grip and stop demonising these birds.

26
May
21

Golden eagles breeding again in Orkney after almost 40 years

RSPB press release (26 May 2021)

Golden eagles breeding again in Orkney after almost 40 years

Golden eagles have returned to Orkney and are breeding here once again after an absence of almost 40 years. Earlier this year local RSPB Scotland staff were delighted to spot a pair nesting at the organisation’s nature reserve in Hoy, and can confirm that they now have chicks. The pair have been seen flying about as they forage.

[One of the breeding pair. Photo by Christine Hall]

These majestic birds used to be a common sight and breed across Orkney but persecution by humans meant just a single pair was left by 1848 in Hoy. Orkney had to wait 116 years until 1966 to see the return of breeding golden eagles. This pair had a long and successful partnership in Hoy raising many chicks together until one of the adults died in the winter of 1982. As these birds pair for life the surviving eagle continued to return to Hoy for three years but there were no further nesting attempts.

The RSPB Scotland staff have been keeping a watchful eye on the new pair to see how they are faring. As golden eagles are very sensitive to disturbance the location of the nest is not being disclosed, and the number of chicks isn’t known as those watching it having been keeping a safe distance away. The species typically has one or two chicks at a time, so the local team are looking forward to when the young fledge to see how many emerge.

Lee Shields, RSPB Scotland’s Hoy warden, said “It is wonderful to see these magnificent eagles return to Orkney and we’re delighted that they are nesting in Hoy. Golden eagles are one of the most iconic birds in Scotland and they have been missing here for too long.

We want to give these birds the best chance of success which is why it’s so important to not reveal where the nest is. It is an inspiring sight to see the male and female soaring over the Hoy hills, and we’re eagerly awaiting finding out how many chicks they have.”

Hoy appears to be the go to place for returning eagles to breed in Orkney, likely due to the terrain in uninhabited areas of the island being well suited for them. Back in 2018 Orkney’s first white-tailed eagle chicks for over 140 years hatched in Hoy. Then RSPB Scotland ran “Eaglewatch” events to allow people to catch a glimpse of the birds but given the heightened sensitivity of golden eagles and as the white-tailed eagles have not bred this year is not doing so here.

Golden eagles are one of the largest birds in Scotland. They are more than twice the size of a buzzard, with a wingspan of 1.8 – 2.3m. Their lifespan is typically over 20 years. All of the UK’s breeding golden eagles are found in Scotland, with the most recent national survey in 2015 putting their numbers at 508 pairs.  

Lee added: “This golden eagle pair are at an early stage of their breeding life and as they are long-lived birds we hope not only that they will be as successful as their predecessors, but that they are the beginning of this species re-establishing itself in Orkney. These birds are an integral part of Orkney’s history and with this pair and their young we’re keeping our fingers crossed we can look forward to them being part of its future once again.” 

ENDS

21
May
21

Natural England considers a request for a copy of a hen harrier diversionary feeding licence to be ‘complex’!

A month ago I blogged about a breach of Natural England’s hen harrier diversionary feeding licence on a North Yorkshire grouse moor – a breach that had been captured on film by raptor fieldworkers monitoring an active hen harrier nest (see here).

Given that the female harrier was only in the early stages of incubation, the timing of this diversionary feeding was in clear breach of the CL25 licence, a licence issued by Natural England to grouse moor managers to permit diversionary feeding ONLY after the eggs have hatched.

[A gamekeeper and a Natural England employee caught on camera visiting an active hen harrier nest on a North Yorkshire grouse moor, April 2021]

You might recall I wrote to Natural England to ask a series a questions about whether they would take any enforcement action – apparently they’re still investigating and can’t/won’t tell me how long they expect an investigation of a single incident involving known individuals, including a Natural England employee, to take (see here and here for previous blogs).

I also asked Natural England for a copy of the previous year’s CL25 licence from this estate, and importantly, the licence return. The licence holder is required to provide detail in this return of each date that diversionary feeding was provided for the breeding hen harriers. I wanted to see whether this estate had breached the terms of previous licences in addition to this year’s licence and if so, find out what enforcement action Natural England had taken, if any.

Natural England was due to provide this information by today at the latest (20 working days from my request).

Yesterday afternoon, at 17.04hrs, I received the following:

I am writing to advise you that the time limit for responding to question 4 in your request for information under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which we received on 22 April 2021, needs to be extended.

The Regulations allow us 20 working days to respond to your request from the date of its receipt. However, it is occasionally necessary to extend the 20 working day time limit for issuing a response. In this case, we regret that we must extend the time limit for responding by a further 20 working days to 21 June 2021, because of the complex nature of the request, but we hope to be able to reply sooner‘.

They crack me up! ‘The complex nature of the request’?? What’s complex about asking for a copy of last year’s licence return? Absolutely nothing! All they’ve got to do is go to the estate’s file, pull out the licence return, redact any personal information, have someone double check it, convert it to a PDF, email it to me. Pretty simple, I’d say.

Unless, of course, (a) the estate failed to submit a licence return and now there’s panic trying to get the estate to submit it albeit very late (which would be another licence breach) or (b) last year’s licence return reveals previous breaches of the licence conditions and thus (c) perhaps reveals Natural England’s failure to impose any enforcement action in the past.

Or perhaps (d), the estate about which I’m enquiring, which is also supposedly under investigation by Natural England for this year’s breach of the licence, is part of this year’s hen harrier brood meddling sham and any exposure of past licence breaches might just be a bit embarrassing for Natural England right about now.

It could of course simply be (e), Natural England is a bit crap.

Who knows, it’s all very ‘complex’. I guess we’ll find out by 21st June.




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